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This report is taken from PN Review 147, Volume 29 Number 1, September - October 2002.

Intimate Distances Marius Kociejowski

Should I have broken the news, at such a late hour, to a man alone in his house? I phoned Stephen Watts to tell him his friend has been killed. A small block of print in The Sunday Times announces the death of W. G. Sebald in a car accident in Norwich. What could be more senseless, more obscene? A great artist dies in a random meeting of steel and flesh, Sebald who in his prose is the tireless walker, quirky processor of the mind's ozone. What could he possibly have had to do with machines? There are intimations of death throughout his writing, true, but nothing to suggest an end so mundane. What is there inside me, as in so many other admirers of his, that would possess him, that will feel his loss a personal one? There are such writers, of course, Kafka foremost among them, who radiate what I would call an intimate distance, who are always close, yet ungraspable. Theirs are unfashionably sacred voyages, which paradoxically enthral the masses. The worlds they create are almost too real to be imagined, so fully do we enter their scenes. All of Sebald's characters are displaced figures and even if their histories are not ones we share we sound in them the fugitive in ourselves.

I saw Sebald a few months ago, on Museum Street, looking rather more dapper than I imagined him to be. I wanted to tell him how much I admired his writing ...


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